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Funerary stele

© 2008 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Iselin Claire

This curved basalt stele comes from Neirab near Aleppo. It bears the Aramaic name of Sin zir Ibni, the priest of the moon god, who was one of the great Babylonian deities. Despite some Syrian traits, the iconography and the gods invoked on the stele show a strong Mesopotamian influence.

The stele of Sin zir Ibni, a priest of Shahar

This stele, together with the stele of Si Gabbor also in the Louvre (ao3027), was found in the 19th century on the site of Neirab, near Aleppo, where the Bible School of Jerusalem began excavations shortly afterwards. The stele is arched at the top, a form that has often been found in the Levant; it represents an upright figure lifting his right hand, perhaps in prayer. In his left hand he is holding a roll of linen with fringed edges. He is wearing a Syrian hat and a short-sleeved tunic reaching to his ankles; it, too, has a fringed hem. A shawl is draped tightly over his chest and covers his left shoulder.

An interesting work in many respects

The Aramaic inscription is placed on either side of the figure's head, under the arch, and covers the entire base of the stele and part of the man's skirt. The same arrangement is found on the Neo-Assyrian low reliefs from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, in the 9th century BC. The text explains that it is the funerary stele of Sin zir Ibni, a priest of Shahar at Neirab (southeast of Aleppo); the stele curses anyone who might try to harm it and blesses anyone who protects it. The gods invoked are Mesopotamian: Sin, Shamash, Nergal, and Nusku. The stele of Si Gabbor, a priest of Shahar, shows that the worship of the moon god (Shahar in Aramaic, Sin in Akkadian) flourished in Syria in the Aleppo region. The cult of this god was established in Harran, near Urfa, a city incorporated in the empire of Nabonidus in the Neo-Babylonian period (6th century BC). The worship of Sin came back into favor at that time and spread with the expansion of the empire. This development probably explains the Mesopotamian influence on several parts of this stele: the name of the priest, which means "Sin is a hero" and that of Si Gabbor are a sort of homage to the Mesopotamian god, as is the choice of the gods invoked in the curse. On the other hand, the priest's costume and headdress, the Aramaic name of the god, and the use of local stone - a hard basalt - indicate that the scene took place in Syria.

Aramaic alphabetic writing

During the 2nd millennium BC, Semite nomads pushed into the lands of the Canaanite cities of the Near East. Among them were the Aramaeans who founded small kingdoms around Damascus. A Western Semitic language of the north similar to Canaanite, Aramaic is read from right to left. The earliest inscriptions, dated from the 9th and 8th centuries BC, have been found near Damascus and Aleppo. The Aramaic language and writing system had a remarkable destiny because the alphabet, derived from Phoenician, competed with and finally replaced the cuneiform system. During the Neo-Assyrian period (9th-6th century BC) Aramaic was spoken from the Mediterranean to India and later became the official language of the Persian Empire (550-330 BC).


Les Antiquités orientales : guide du visiteur, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997.
Carrière B., Barrois Augustin-Georges, "Fouilles de l'École archéologique française de Jérusalem effectuées à Neirab du 24 septembre au 5 novembre 1926", in Syria, 1927, pp. 126-127.
Contenau Georges, Manuel d'archéologie orientale, t. I, Paris, Picard, 1927, p. 118, fig. 68.
Contenau Georges, Manuel d'archéologie orientale, t. III, Paris, Picard, 1931, p. 1365.

Technical description

  • Funerary stele

    C. 7th century BC

    Neirab or Tell Afis

  • Basalt

    H. 93 cm; W. 34 cm; D. 14 cm

  • Acquired in 1897 , 1897

    Inscription en araméen

    AO 3026

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 302

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Additional information about the work

Inscription in Aramaic